Ten Ways to Be Assertive Without Being Overbearing

Ron McIntyre
4 min readNov 24, 2023

In today’s world, with people not listening or talking over each other, any person may need to be bold in their discussions. However, a thin line exists between being assertive, overbearing, and belligerent. Being assertive without overpowering is vital for effective communication and maintaining healthy relationships.

When we understand assertiveness, we can be confident in how we feel, put forward what we need, or offer input on decisions that are relevant to any topic we have experienced within business. The primary driver is our motivation. If the motivation is to dominate or dictate, that is not assertive, just bullying.

As discussions are allowed to be positive, open, and honest, we can make the relationships more profound and fruitful for all involved. This is where innovation can blossom.

Here are ten ways to be proactive while respecting the rights and boundaries of others:

1. Use “I” format statements: Express your thoughts and feelings using “I” statements like “I feel” or “I think” to convey your perspective without blaming or accusing others. If you begin a sentence with “You’re wrong,” the conversation will become defensive and unproductive. The key here is to ensure you are comfortable with what you are offering because you are open to criticism and doubt if you are unsure.

2. Practice Active listening: Always show that you value the other person’s viewpoint by listening to what they say before responding. This demonstrates empathy and can help you find common ground. Listen to understand, not just react, as many people today do in conversations. Keep it a conversation to move forward, not a debate that usually results in a split decision.

3. Maintain eye contact: Make eye contact to convey confidence and attentiveness while you speak or listen. However, be mindful not to stare excessively, as that can be intimidating. With so many people studying body language to manipulate the conversation, any distraction or twinge can be easily misunderstood, so relax and make genuine eye contact.

4. Be clear and concise: Always communicate your needs, wants, or opinions clearly and directly. Avoid vague language or beating around the bush, leading to miscommunication. Politics and business are full of fluff and acronyms they use to communicate. While it may seem legitimate and necessary, often, it can be simplified without losing the meaning or changing the need. If you are expressing this way because you want to be seen as intelligent, then understand that the opposite may be true also.

5. Stay calm and composed: Keep your emotions in check, especially in challenging situations. Taking deep breaths and using a calm voice can help you convey assertiveness without aggression. We have lost any chance of resolving the differences when we speak angrily. If you react angrily, you have lost the respect and possibility of finding common ground in every conversation.

6. Use assertive body language: Stand or sit up straight, use open and relaxed body language, and avoid crossing your arms, as it can make you appear defensive or closed off. The key word here is relaxed. For example, sitting in a forward lunging position may be interpreted as an attack mode, and the response will be defensive.

7. Understand through empathy: Try to understand the other person’s point of view and acknowledge their feelings and concerns. You can’t do this if you are listening to respond. This can help build rapport and diffuse potential conflicts. If you are comfortable, ask why questions to understand better, but be careful not to use their response as a weapon to counter.

8. Choose the right time and place: Timing is crucial in assertive communication. Wait for an appropriate moment to discuss sensitive topics and find a private setting when necessary. This will help avoid confusion, embarrassment, or angry eruptions depending on the conversation. This applies to both spoken and written discussions. If you are angry, I suggest you write an email, save it as a draft, and revise it 24 hours later when you are in a better position.

9. Offer alternatives: Instead of insisting on your way, be open to compromise and suggest solutions that meet your needs and the other person’s. It seems that compromise has become a dirty word today. However, this is the only way we as a society can survive and thrive. If you don’t want to offer any alternatives, I suggest you rethink the importance of the issue and whether it will be worth the cost to push for a unilateral position.

10. Respect boundaries: Recognize and respect the boundaries of others. If someone is not ready or willing to engage in a conversation, give them space and time and revisit the topic later. If you are working internationally, you must add cultural variations to this particular point. Understanding another’s culture and conversational approach will help avoid embarrassment, confusion, and possibly missing an opportunity.

In summary, remember that assertiveness is about expressing yourself while considering the feelings and needs of others. It’s not about dominating or controlling a situation but finding a balanced approach that promotes healthy communication and cooperation.

If your goal is to get someone to capitulate, then if you win, chances are you have lost already.



Ron McIntyre

Ron McIntyre is a Leadership Anthropologist, Author, and Consultant, who, in semi-retirement, is looking to help people who really want to make a difference.